Join Dana Robinson for an in-depth discussion in this video What is copyright law?, part of Understanding Intellectual Property.
First question most people ask me about copyright law is simply what is it? They often think that they can use copyright law to protect their idea. So they, they say I have a great idea, how can I copyright that? And you actually can't use copyright law to protect ideas. Copyright law protects the expression. The idea once it has been put into a tangible thing, a medium of expression. So a typical example of what you can copyright is a book. If you've written the book you can copyright the book.
You can't copyright the idea of the book. You can copyright photos that you've actually taken. You can copyright a painting that you've painted. You can copyright a sculpture that you've sculpted, and, you can copyright computer code if it's original work of authorship, if it's something you have actually created, not that you've taken from somebody else. So the copyright is going to cover things that have been, been, been created. Creative works is another easy reference to think of what can I do with copyright law? So, there's two essential requirements. An original work of authorship, and it needs to be fixed in tangible form.
It doesn't need to be completed, but it should be something that has become fixed. You have done something that becomes physical, and then can be, photographed to be submitted to the copyright office, or it can be shown, it, it can be exhibited to say, this is the thing I've copyrighted. The, the thing about copyright law is that it doesn't protect the idea embedded in your expression. So you could paint a flower and protect your particular painting of a flower but you're not going to be able to stop somebody from painting their own flower.
The same is true on an even more complicated level. Imagine a story about a, a loner who becomes friendly with hostile natives and then eventually becomes one of them, and then ends up becoming adverse to the people that he once was with. This is a story that we've probably seen a few times. It sounds a little bit like Avatar. It sounds a little bit like The Last Samurai. It sounds a little bit like Dances with Wolves.
There are a number of movies that wrap around that theme. The idea that I just explained isn't protectable. But the particular story that packages around it, that expression, that will be protectable, and you can protect that under copyright law. additionally, if something that's could be copyrighted is primarily functional, then copyright law won't protect it. There was a famous case with a bike rack you may have seen these that, that are squiggly bike racks.
That the author alleged was a sculptural work, it was a three dimensional sculptural work, it was art. And therefore the artist rightfully in the beginning thought well I should be able to protect this But the the courts found that this was actually too utilitarian. It was used to position bikes against to lock bikes up, and therefore it's primary function was utilitarian and therefore it couldn't be protected as a work of art. We call this the utilitarian function. If something has utility, then it's, copyright protection is going to be either diminished or have no protection whatsoever.
In terms of databases, is a very frequent question that people ask. Can databases be protected? And the answer is not necessarily. Data is not protectable. Databases as a whole can be protected. So if someone steals an entire database, then you might be able to sue them for infringing the entire database. But the data in it isn't protectable because the data is not an original work of authorship. It's simply a bunch of data. The information in a list in an online database or directory of addresses, for example.
The individual units of data are not, they're not creative works of authorship. They're just data. But the assembly of those into a database together, compiled. It can be protectable, as an original work of authorship because someone has selected and arranged the data in a particular way.
The information in this course applies only to the United States.
DISCLAIMER: This course is taught by an attorney and addresses US law concepts that may not apply in all countries. Neither LInkedIn nor the attorney teaching the course represents you and they are not giving legal advice. The information conveyed through this course is akin to a college or law school course; it is not intended to give legal advice, but instead to communicate basic information to help viewers understand the basics of intellectual property.
- What is intellectual property?
- What is a copyright?
- How long do copyrights last?
- Trademarking your brand
- Trademark infringement
- Patenting your ideas
- Defending trade secrets<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
Skill Level Intermediate
Q: Can a provisional be extended?
A: No. The provisional is only good for one year and it must be followed by a nonprovisional application by the end of that 12 months, or it will not only mean you can't get protection for the idea, but that others will be free to practice it after that. A provisional that is not followed by a nonprovisional effectively makes the subject of the provisional public domain.
Q: If the full utility is "held up" in the patent office and is not secured before the provisional expires, does that make your idea unpatentable?
A: See the "Can a provisional be extended?" FAQ. If you file a provisional and then do not file a nonprovisional within a year (what is called a full-utility patent application) then you are done. There is no protection.
Q: The course mentions that discussing an idea with someone without a signed NDA "starts the 12-month clock" on making your idea public domain. Is this true?
A: If you have not filed any patent application at all, and you disclose your idea without an NDA (say you show it at a trade show or put it on a website), then you must file a patent within 12 months of that disclosure. The reason is that the patent must be novel, meaning there's no prior art out there that speaks to your invention. If you disclose something prior to filing, then your own disclosure makes your later patent NON-novel. You ruin novelty by disclosing the idea. However, the US gives you a safe harbor of 12 months from your disclosure to get your patent filed; so your disclosure within 12 months is not considered a bar to novelty for that period. But, after 12 months, the disclosure by you (or anyone) of the subject matter will become a bar to your patent insofar as it makes the patent not novel.
Q: Does disclosure make an idea unpatentable?
A: A disclosure more than 12 months prior (or provisional past 12 months) will present a major obstacle to patentability because it becomes prior art. It must be disclosed in the patent application, and to the extent that what was disclosed is the same as what you want to patent, it will likely be an obstacle. In some cases, you can add new inventive features to something that was in an expired provisional patent, or to something that was disclosed ... as long as what is new is novel and is not obvious in light of the prior disclosure or prior expired provisional patent.
A: Could your utility patent be revoked even if the people you discussed your idea with kept it confidential? (In other words, is an idea you talked about 12+ months ago unpatentable because you talked about it?)
A: Generally, if the subject has not disclosed, then it is arguably still protectable and patentable. You don't have have a signed nondisclosure, but a knowledge of the confidentiality and an obligation to keep it confidential. If you gave an open talk at a trade show about it, and it happens that no one talked about it, you still have a disclosure problem. If you told your friend about it and she hasn't told anyone, then it is probably still confidential and not disclosed.